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Alleged Sweatshop Owner Surrenders

December 8, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ The owner of an alleged ``sweatshop″ that made clothes under Kathie Lee Gifford’s label surrendered to state authorities today and faced arraignment on criminal misdemeanor charges.

Several dozen Chinese workers, who claim to have been cheated out of thousands of dollars in wages, gathered on a lower Manhattan sidewalk to hoot and jeer as Lai Fong Yuen was escorted to court from State Attorney General Dennis Vacco’s office.

``Shame on you!″ some of them shouted. Several held signs with large photos of Kathie Lee. One read, ``Pay your workers or go to jail.″ Another said, ``Wanted: Sweatshop Queen.″

Officials said Yuen ran three shops that made garments under a dozen labels, including Kathie Lee Woman, marketed under the name of the television personality.

The workers, all Chinese immigrants, allegedly were forced to work up to 80 hours a week for low and sometimes nonexistent wages, a Gifford spokesman acknowledged last week.

Yuen was originally to have surrendered last Friday but failed to show up. ``Apparently she was between lawyers,″ said Vacco aide David Corvette.

Yuen faces up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine if convicted on the charges of failure to pay wages.

Last year, Mrs. Gifford came under fire when labor activists revealed that clothing sold under her name at Wal-Mart stores were produced in a Honduran sweatshop. Her husband, sports announcer Frank Gifford, later visited a New York factory with checks for workers who claimed not to have been paid for making clothes with her label.

She testified before Congress, attacking sweatshop owners as ``cockroaches.″

Mrs. Gifford ``is making every effort possible to fight sweatshops,″ her spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, said earlier. ``She will cooperate with Vacco and any other official to help stamp out these abuses.″

Vacco said that in the latest case, workers had gone as long as 10 weeks without pay, and total underpayments could run to $300,000.

Wing Lam, executive director of the non-profit agency, Chinese Staff Workers Association, said Mrs.Gifford had paid $50,000 but that was far short of what she owed the workers. ``She only paid after the case was exposed,″ Lam said.

He said the workers were union members and most have been in the United States for several years, some as long as 10 years.

State investigators said as many as 100 workers at Yuen’s three shops _ LAW Fashions, Inc., Laura and Sarah Sportswear, Inc. and MSL Fashions, Inc. _ were paid below the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, with no overtime.

The factories were all closed last month, officials said.

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